Lost luggage? No worries. Missoula International Airport enters delivery business

The Missoula County Airport Authority on Tuesday agreed to enter the baggage delivery service, saying at least one airline had become dissatisfied with its current ground handling contract in Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Was your baggage lost on an inbound flight to Missoula? No problem – Missoula International Airport is here to help, starting now.

The Missoula County Airport Authority on Tuesday agreed to enter the baggage delivery service, saying at least one airline had become dissatisfied with its current ground handling contract in Missoula.

Dan Newman, the airport’s business development manager, said that created an opportunity for the airport to deliver lost baggage on its own, a move that generates additional revenue and could help soothe the angst of frustrated passengers.

“Alaska Airlines wasn’t entirely happy with their existing bag handling service and it was suggested that we explore going into that business for ourselves,” said Newman. “As we negotiate with American Airlines, they’ve told us that if we get the ground handling bid, we’ll deliver their bags as well.”

Historically, baggage delivery in Missoula has been handled by independent contractors, though at least one closed down and the other left the airlines, primarily Alaska, dissatisfied with its quality of service.

In a letter to the airport this month, Horizon Airlines’ regional manager for customer service said the carrier was looking forward to shifting its contract to the airport, so long as it agreed to enter the baggage delivery business.

“Alaska Airlines is looking forward to the new baggage delivery service provided by your team,” Horizon representative Trevor Peterson told the airport. “Our intention is to have your team be our primary baggage delivery service for all of our needs.”

The Missoula airport has also submitted a bid to American Airlines to perform its ground handling services at the airport. The airline plans to award that contract in March, and if the airport wins the bid, American would also have the airport perform its baggage delivery needs.

The airport expects to generate nearly $2,000 in revenue per month by performing Alaska Arlines’ baggage delivery needs, though American would boost that revenue by 33 percent if it too contracted the airport to perform the service.

“Right now, the delivery is done by a private contractor, and we have no control over how that bag is delivered,” said Shane Stack, chair of the airport board. “We have no control over what’s said or any of that. You guys can make sure that’s a positive experience and a benefit to the airport.”

Newman said baggage on inbound flights is lost in a number of ways, from a mislabeled tag placed at the destination city to a major mess-up at larger hubs when bags are delivered to a plane. No matter how it happens, passengers who arrive in Missoula without their luggage are rarely pleased.

By entering the business, Newman said, the airport can work to make amends with its customers. While delayed baggage isn’t the airport’s fault, it can reflect badly on the facility.

“That’s one other piece that comes to mind that’s important to us, and that’s the airport experience,” Newman said. “This allows us to have a little say in a customer that’s had a bad experience. We do care that they got their bag back, and it’s from the airport. It gives us a little more input into the service.”

The business model developed by the airport suggests roughly 1.5 delayed bags per inbound flight. On rare occasions, as many as 30 bags have failed to arrive with the plane due an employee mistake at the destination city, such as forgetting to connect one chain in the baggage cart.

Given the airport’s wide regional draw, delivering delayed baggage to customers could cover a broad geographic area. More than 770,000 passengers traveled though the Missoula airport last year, setting a new record.

“We’re not just talking about Missoula here,” said airport board member Jeff Roth. “This bag could be delivered to Hamilton or Sandpoint or Salmon, Idaho. In a sense, the further away it is, the more profit margin there is for the airport.”

Airlines pay a per-bag fee for delivery.